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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303

1nCEBS 2009 Shah Alam

1st National Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies, Faculty of Architecture,

Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia,
14-15 November 2009

Islamic Architecture Evolution: Perception and Behaviour

Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib* and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi
Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, 40450, Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia


The building of a mosque in this day and age is a great achievement of the Muslim community, particularly if the
community is living in a non Muslim country. Technology has been the drive to improve construction method of
early Muslim community that influence of values and perception towards Islam in the whole world until today. While
appreciating the quantitative increase and aesthetic embellishments of many new urban mosques, several Muslim
scholars, intellectuals and activists have expressed their concern and reservation regarding the function of these
mosques in light of pristine world-view of Islam.

Elsevier Ltd.Ltd.
Elsevier Selection and peer-review
Selection underunder
and peer-review responsibility of Centre
responsibility for Environment-
of Centre Behaviour
for Environment-
Studies (cE-Bs),
Behaviour Faculty
Studies of Architecture,
(cE-Bs), Planning &Planning
Faculty of Architecture, Surveying, Universiti Teknologi
& Surveying, Universiti MARA,
MARA, Malaysia.
Open access under CC BY-NC-ND license.
Keywords: Mosque; perception; behaviour; sacred space; community centre

1. Introduction

The title chosen for this research is to introduce the idea of changing uses and meaning of the mosque
in contemporary Muslim societies. Although, when in the mosque, the believer might expect to be in
direct contact with that which he regards as sacred, in practice increasingly finds himself confronted with
manifestations of altered uses of the house of worship changes of a non religious nature which he may
find difficult to understand and to relate to. As Spahic Omer said,
To be sure, studying the Islamic Built Environment by no means cannot be separated from the total
framework of Islamic: its genesis, history, ethos, worldview, doctrines, law, and practices. Any

Corresponding author.
E-mail address:

1877-0428 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs),
Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia Open access under CC BY-NC-ND license.
294 Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303

approach by anybody and at any point of time with recourse to disconnecting the Islamic Built
Environment from that which held sway over its conception and formation would undoubtedly result in
failure and , may distort the real picture of subject matter and with it the picture of Islam (Spahic Omer,
My contentions is that the entire history of the mosque has be reconsidered and reinterpreted, with
particular reference to forms and design, as well as perception and behavior related to semiological
systems (i.e. signs and symbols used by members of any social group to convey shared values) which
determine the study of perception of abstract concepts such as sacred or sanctity space in mosque in
Malay modern society.

2. Literature review

Why I choose the mosque? For historians of architecture and culture alike, the answer is gratifyingly
simple as Robert Hillenbrand said This is the Islamic building par excellence, and as such the key to
Islamic architecture (Robert Hillenbrand, 1994). Moreover, the medieval Muslim world, like medieval
Europe, was a theoretic society and the mosque was the natural expression of that society. The mosque as
a place of worship is a building enclosing a space that is regarded by believers as sacred and distinct from
its secular surroundings, and that by virtue of its sanctified status it can enhance the meaning of the words
and actions of the believer while he is present there. If any change is made to the traditional concept of
the mosque and its sacred character, the main function of the building is distorted (M. Arkoun, 2002). It is
for this reason that the design, the forms and the special features of the building, including the dome, the
minaret, the mihrab and the mimbar, are usually reproduced in accordance with the familiar architectural
imagery which has been instilled into the minds of individuals as the result of constant repetition down
the centuries.
In the case of the mosque, aside from the traditional and well established attitudes of believers towards
what they regard as sacred, there is the modern approach to the meaning of the sacred based on reason,
revealing aspects and changes which remain beyond the understanding of those whose faith is founded
only on unquestioning belief (Nasr, 1981). The choice, then in making a study of the place of the mosque
in contemporary Muslim society is between merely accepting the tradition bound viewpoint of believers
one which simply repeats what they regards as being sacred or attempting to analyze perceptions and
beliefs by placing them either in their historical, sociological, anthropological or psychological
perspectives (M. Arkoun, 2002).

2.1. A historical appraisal

In any attempt to define and understand the role of the mosque it is necessary to take note of the
situation that prevailed in Medina in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad . As was true of every new
religion, the question of the sacred and its cognitive and ritual status was relevant issue in the earliest
years of Islam; the act of building a mosque for the emerging Muslim group in Medina was seen as both a
political and a religious gesture. The Quran makes an explicit reference to a rival group which built its
own place of worship to compete with the true mosque founded by the Prophet and including the
shifting of the direction of the qibla from Jerussalem to Mecca .
Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303 295

Fig. 1. Kaabah at Mecca as a qibla (direction) for all Muslim in the Solat. Source (a): Islamic Architecture, (1973) and Source
(b) Architecture of the Islamic Cultural Sphere, (1986)

Perhaps the best example of the historical approach to the mosque is the article Masjid in the
Encyclopaedia of Islam, which provides a chronology coverage of period from the time of Prophet in
Medina until the Ottoman era, with particular emphasis on functions of mosque during classical age.
The Quran (9:108-9) refers to those who have built themselves a mosque for opposition, and unbelief
and division among believers, and for refuge for him who in the past fought against God and the Prophet.
The early mosque form a hypostyle hall with adjacent courtyard acquired a sacred quality not
because it was build or designed in a certain style, but because in the course of time it became sanctified
by virtue of the functions it fulfilled for believers. Even Creswell comments, Such was the house of the
leader of the community at Medina. Nor did Muhammad wish to alter these conditions; he was entirely
without architecture ambitions, and Ibn Sad records the following saying of his: The most unprofitable
thing that eaten up the wealth of Believer is building (Creswell,1968). The concept of sacred was a
product of common perceptions among Muslims and of the solidarity shared by members of the groups.

Fig. 2. Illustration of Prophet Muhammads House, Medina Saudi Arabia A.D 622; Source: The Buildings of Early Islam, (1976)
296 Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303

Fig. 3. The Mosque Types; Source: Architecture of the Islamic Cultural Sphere, (1986)

For Muslims the concept of the sacred is linked directly to the word of God (Al Quran), the revelation
of His commands and teachings, as well as to the hadith of the Prophet and the interpretation of their
meanings. Such a concept does not of course preclude aesthetic and architectural creativity in the design
of the building, for such creativity is in the domain of the architect and thus remains quire separate from
the idea of the metamorphosis of the sacred.
In historical terms mosque architecture offers a great variety of styles, resulting from the influence of
such factors as cultural and geographical environment, the aim of the patron and the skills of the architect
and craftsmen engaged in the building process. Each mosque thus provides a reflection perception of the
particular cognitive system which gave rise to the individual perceptions and attitudes of those involved
in its construction, resulting in a diversity of readings and meanings.

2.2. An anthropological approach

In the history of human psychology essentially to discuss only two stages of development to be
considered, that of mythical knowledge with its integrated signs and meanings, and that of
demythologized knowledge (i.e knowledge based on rational thought). The mythical knowledge is
concerned with the construction of truth founded on imagination rather than on critical reason and
logical categorization (Gottdiener, 1986). Myth is a kind of narrative (qasas, a term often occurring in the
Quran) engendered by marvelous, the fantastic and the supernatural, and thetruth which it expresses
appeals directly to the emotions and the imagination.
Sacred places are not ordinary places, so they are places of extraordinary events, such as
communication with the divine; but not being ordinary, sacred may also threaten or destroy ordinary,
physical life. (Salamone, 2004)
Thus, when the Quran states that Abraham a prophetic figure from the distant past visited the
Kaabah in Mecca, nobody bothers to ask why, when or how. The original purpose of such an account was
Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303 297

to create in minds of the early followers of Muhammad the idea of a symbolic religious figure whose
direct connection with Kaabah would reinforce its sacred quality for Muslims, replacing its earlier pagan
associations with a new true religious meaning. A parallel instance of such a metamorphosis of the
sacred in early times can be seen in the adoption by Muslims of pre-Islamic temples, which were
converted to serve as the House of Allah.
A related paradox of a sarced place is the sence in which its holiness is enternal, intrinsic and
objective, while it is also somehow constructed in time, chosen from out of other places, and
proclaimed such by people.
.they perform the rituals that periodically purify or rededicate these places, but these structures
are there only to remind humans of the holiness present there and to direct their thoughts and actions
toward them in ways that are recognized and approved by the communities. (Salamone,2004)
The process of demythologization of knowledge began in Europe as early as sixteenth century, but it
was not until the great period of industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth century that there was a
simultaneous process which produced a cognitive system dominated by philosophers rather than
theologians, by mathematics and physical sciences instead of religious belief and applications of
technology replacing familiar craft skills. The nineteenth century also saw the beginnings of a breakdown
in the traditional values of Muslim societies, a process that was encouraged by external factors (European
capitalism and colonization) and not compensated for by the substitution of alternative systems generated
from within those societies; the effect was therefore destructive, for while in Europe secular ideas
were gaining the ascendant and supplanting the traditional concept of sacred, in Islamic world its
theological basis was simply undermined and not subsequently replaced with any constructive and
meaningful alternative (Malik Bennabi,1968).
The aesthetic of a mosque designed and build within this sphere cannot be attributed solely to
patronage and the talent of the architect; other factors to be considered in the evaluation of a building
include the questions as to whether the inspirational roles of religious faith and the sacred are
strengthened or diminished by the building itself. In the context of past societies based on mythical
knowledge it would have been unthinkable to build mosques at some distances from centers of
population, for the place of worship has traditionally always been closely integrated with the daily life of
each Muslim community (Tajuddin, 1998).
We may now move on to consider the altered role of mosque s throughout the Muslim world since each
country gained its independence from colonial rule. From the eighteenth century onwards, traditional
attitudes to mythical knowledge had started to breakdown under the influence of the West, thought
Muslim society in general remained unaffected by this process; initially, only small urban elites were
educated in the modern way of thinking and of perceiving and interpreting human existence and social
values (Titi, 1988). This has meant that the signs and symbols of imported cultures and the views
expressed by the social elite and the ulama often ceased to be understood by ordinary people, so leading
to deterioration of social relationship.

2.3. A semiological analysis

The forms, structural elements and the various spaces and facilities are in this context less essential
than the historical validation derived from the initial dedication of the first mosque to the one true God,
its sanctification by the presence of the Prophet and, in mosques built since his time, of the ulama, whose
members have always been respected for their deep religious knowledge and spirituality. Similarly, those
saintly figures known as friends of God (awliya) are often buried near a mosque, thus extending the
concept of a sacred beyond the building itself.
298 Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303

The semiological context which is preserved by the mosque, which has always been a place for
cultural exchanges in traditional Muslim societies, and not merely a religious building where the faithful
congregate for acts of worships; in other words, as an institution the mosque has a clear social and
spiritual basis. Because the mosque is a sacred space it is regarded as belonging to all members of a
Muslim society.

3. Methodology

The research design and methodology approach selected to develop preliminary study of the
perception of users towards sacredness or sanctity space in mosque. Quantitative research based on
questionnaires are been used to gather the data from users to achieve research objective. The questions are
based on perception of users on understanding solat and mosque. Modern mosque are been chosen for the
site as the model of the study to determine the space. A diagram of mosque plan and picture indicated
space a given with label color coding to choose the space.

4. Results and discussions

There are two categories of question based on sacredness or sanctity space in mosque, first is general
questions related with mosque and second is the space related to the site. The result of the user perception
towards mosque as below:

4.1. General perception

Fig.4. User age and Academic background; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)

The ages of the respondent that take part of this study are range from 21 to 50 years and above. 60%
from its, is below 30 years old. Background race of the respondent are Malay with academic background
diversify from certificate, diploma, degree, masters, doctorate and others. The higher are Diploma holders
with 30% of the respondents.

Table 2. Mosque is ritual prayer and meditation centre for Muslim; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)
Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303 299

Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent

Valid Totally agree 42 84,0 84,0 84,0
Strongly agree 3 6,0 6,0 90,0
Agree 3 6,0 6,0 96,0
Disagree 2 4,0 4,0 100,0
50 100,0 100,0

From the Table 2, 96% of the respondents agree with the propositions that mosque is ritual prayer and
meditation centre for Muslim. Only 4% not agree with that statement.

Table 3. Mosque as a Centre for Community for Muslim; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)

Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent

Valid Totally agree 37 74,0 74,0 74,0
Strongly agree 8 16,0 16,0 90,0
Agree 4 8,0 8,0 98,0
Disagree 1 2,0 2,0 100,0
Total 50 100,0 100,0

The figures at Table 3 showing 98%of the respondents mostly agree with the propositions that mosque
as a Centre for Community for Muslim. Only 2% disagree with that statement.

Table 4. Can other activity been operated in Mosque; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)

Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent

Valid Totally agree 16 32,0 32,0 32,0
Strongly agree 15 30,0 30,0 62,0
Agree 15 30,0 30,0 92,0
Disagree 2 4,0 4,0 96,0
Totally disagree 2 4,0 4,0 100,0
50 100,0 100,0

The data at Table 4 showing 92%of the respondents agree with the propositions that mosque can
operated other activity in Mosque. Only 4% not agree with that statement.

Table 5. Design of the mosque give a psychological impact to sacredness of the space; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)
300 Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303

Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent

Valid Totally agree 20 40,0 40,0 40,0
Strongly agree 14 28,0 28,0 68,0
Agree 14 28,0 28,0 96,0
Disagree 2 4,0 4,0 100,0
Total 50 100,0 100,0

Mostly the respondents agree with the element of design of the mosque give a psychological
impact to sacredness of the space. Only 4% disagree with that statement.

Table 6. Size, light and material used give some impact towards sacredness space; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)

Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent

Valid Totally agree 14 28,0 28,0 28,0

Strongly agree 14 28,0 28,0 56,0
Agree 13 26,0 26,0 82,0
Disagree 5 10,0 10,0 92,0
Totally disagree
3 6,0 6,0 98,0
Not mention
1 2,0 2,0 100,0
50 100,0 100,0

82% of the respondents agree with the element give some impact towards sacredness space. Only 16%
not agree with that statement and one of them not mention anything.

Table 7. Mosque area must be fence to protect the sacredness of space; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)

Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent

Valid Totally agree 8 16,0 16,0 16,0

Strongly agree 7 14,0 14,0 30,0
Agree 15 30,0 30,0 60,0
Disagree 10 20,0 20,0 80,0
Totally disagree 10 20,0 20,0 100,0
50 100,0 100,0

According to the respondents 60% agree that the mosque area must be fence to protect the sacredness
of space. Only 40% disagree with that statement.
Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303 301

4.2. Perception on sacredness or sanctity spaces

The site is Masjid Negara, Kuala Lumpur with capacity reach about 15,000 people and famous as
modern structure era, been build in 1968 with new concept approach. The data is based on 50 peoples that
have visit and used the mosque. Below are the table, diagram and plan of Masjid Negara. The area
involve are:

A Mihrab C Praying Hall E Sahn

B Mimbar D Hall F Minaret
G- Balcony I Office L Tomb
H , K Toilet (not indicated here) J Compound of the Mosque

Fig. 5. Coloured zoning plan of Masjid Negara indicating areas; Source: M. Zafrullah, (2009)

Table 8. Agree % Not Agree % Not mention %

Space A 76 6 18
Space B 68 14 18
Space C 76 6 18
Space D 10 72 18
Space E 26 56 18
Space F 18 64 18
Space G 22 60 18
Space H 4 78 18
Space I 6 76 18
Space J 10 72 18
Space K 18 64 18
Space L 20 62 18

According to this study, perception of respondent mostly agree with more than 65% that the space that
have sacredness or sanctity with higher level are indicated as Praying hall (Zoning space A,C,B).
302 Mohd Zafrullah Mohd Taib and Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 49 (2012) 293 303

Fig. 6. User perception of space towards Sacredness / Sanctity in the Masjid Negara; Source: M.Zafrullah, (2009)

5. Conclusions

The problem of the mosque in Islam must be seen in the larger context of social engineering rather
than mere exercises in aesthetics or romantic revivalism (Tajuddin, 2002). The mosque has the great
potential of changing the Muslim society if it is considered closer as an educational institution than a
House of Rituals that prohibits so many activities under the false guise of 'sanctity' (M. Zafrullah, 2008).
We believe that over sanctification of mosque brought about by scholars of architecture and religions
have deteriorated the eternal idea of the mosque as a center for community development in Islam. Rather
than deal with the question of which ornament to use and how big a dome should crown the prayer space.
Muslims ought to pay particular attention to the programs and functions of the mosque that would benefit
the people more than it would the egoistic few.
A truly contemporary approach must take into account the needs and aspirations of the people for
whom the mosque is built. The technology is the means by which it is build, and the choice of
technology, to be appropriate, must depend on the conditions of a particular place. It is through an honest
response to such considerations rather than through a literal expression of past style that the mosque of
the future will retain their differences and remain close to the spirit of Islam.


Alhamdulillah. To my father and mom has been pass away the last ramadhan as complete a year went
this paper has been written - Al fatihah. May Allah bless you and may included in group of taqwa
people. To my supervisor Professor Dr. Mohamad Tajudin Rasdi and faculty members, Thank you for
your support and patience. To my wife and family, thank you so much for been good supporter and
always with me in the journey in the making of this research.


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